Dan Popp
Just taxes -- Introduction, principles 1 and 2
An American tax manifesto
By Dan Popp
March 20, 2009

"There is no such thing as a good tax." — Winston Churchill

Our civilization has declined to the point that we have forgotten why governments exist, why taxes are necessary, and that each is too dangerous to be allowed to grow.

The New Testament, in chapters like Romans 13 and 1st Peter 2, teaches that government is God's earthly agent for promoting virtuous behavior and punishing evil. "For because of this you also pay taxes," Paul writes in Romans 13:6. Because of what? Because of government's mandate as "...a minister of God to you for good," and "...an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil." (verse 4, NASB)

It is this justice function on government's part that creates a tax obligation on our part.

John Locke wrote, "Government has no other end, but the preservation of property," a broad term which to him included "lives, liberties and estates." Thomas Jefferson held that,

    A wise and frugal government... shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.

Jefferson and his co-conspirators on the Declaration of Independence reasoned that governments are instituted among men in order to secure God-given rights. Because evildoers will try to use unlawful, arbitrary force, government may oppose them with lawful, delegated force.

As James Madison put it, "It is sufficiently obvious...that the rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot be separated."

So government's job is to protect people and their property — from criminals inside the country, and from invaders. Perhaps we could develop a list of other desirable functions of government, but nothing on that list could interfere with its primary tasks of safeguarding lives and possessions. A regime that fails to do those things, according to Apostles, philosophers and founders, is not a legitimate government.

Our federal, state and local governments often do the opposite. Consider the recent instances of municipalities abusing eminent domain powers to transfer property from its rightful owners to corporations, for the admitted purpose of increasing tax revenues. This is tax power gone very wrong. Governments are permitted to tax so they can protect your rights; instead they ravage your rights to grab more taxes.

In this, and the three following columns, I hope to present 10 principles that could lead to a more just system of taxation.

Principle 1: There Must Be a Limit on Government's Power to Tax

"An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy; because there is a limit beyond which no institution and no property can bear taxation." — John Marshall

"The difference between death and taxes is death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets." — Will Rogers

The founders of our country were brilliant men, but they could not tell the future. They hoped that the American public would stay informed and engaged; that frequent elections in the House of Representatives (where all revenue bills must begin) would keep politicians from hiking taxes to harmful levels. But they underestimated the craftiness and ambition of elected officials, and they overestimated the political stamina of the citizenry.

The precept of limited government is not a Conservative, nor a Republican, nor a Libertarian principle; it is an American principle — perhaps the American principle. But we can't limit government's power and scope unless we curb its finances. A ruling body that can write a check for any amount, at any time, for any purpose it pleases, is an unlimited government. Only by restricting the amount of money government can take in (and print, and borrow), can we hope to restrain its power.

Principle 2: Income Taxes Violate Private Property Rights

    To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it. — Thomas Jefferson

What Jefferson was condemning was tax slavery for the purpose of spreadin' the wealth around. Sound familiar?

Anyone who reads the founding fathers will realize that they saw private property differently than most people do today. To Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and their peers, property was truly owned by the individual — and this right was as sacrosanct as the right to life. Any government that would transfer money or goods from a law-abiding citizen to someone else would be breaking the Eighth and Tenth Commandments. At that point the policeman has become the robber. Such a regime has perverted its mission of imposing justice, and has therefore lost its divine authority. It has forfeited the right to rule.

Socialism, as John Adams saw it, is not an enlightened and "progressive" system, but barbarism and bondage:

    The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If 'Thou shalt not covet' and 'Thou shalt not steal' were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.

If you want a measure of the Marxist infection of our culture, check your own reaction to this statement from perhaps the 18th century's greatest legal mind, William Blackstone: "So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community." Chief Justice John Jay concurred, "No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent."

And, to pile on one more powerful old quotation, here is economist Adam Smith writing in 1776:

    The property which every man has in his own labour; as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. To hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbour is a plain violation of this most sacred property.

Today some politicians portray this time-tested vision as "greedy" and "unpatriotic." The father of their view is not Madison, but Marx, who said: "The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property."

An income tax violates the right of private property by giving others first claim to something you have made. Please note that for this discussion I make no distinction between money and property, since dollars and things are interchangeable. Goods, services, property, money — these are variant appearances of the same thing: rewards of your talent, skill and effort. The unalienable right to private property is the right to keep that which you have legally earned or gained; the right to save it, use it, modify it, trade it, give it or destroy it, as you wish. That is, in fact, what you have acquired: the power to decide something — an increase in the number of options available to you.

As a side note, it would be very foolish for authorities to take away these expanded opportunities you have earned and award them to someone else, even if no high principles were involved — even if the only considerations were the incentives established and the economic consequences unleashed.

A tax on your income is a tax on your work itself, making you a vassal of the state. Big Brother will slice the pie you have baked and take the first piece — you get whatever is left over after he has eaten his fill. He is The Decider; you are his drone.

Perhaps it was because of this view of private property that federal income taxes were forbidden originally by the constitution. Our Union endured without them until 1913, when the 16th Amendment brought that protection to an end.

In those more clear-eyed days The New York Times wrote in opposition to the income tax: "When men get in the habit of helping themselves to the property of others, they cannot easily be cured of it."

In the next installment I plan to examine the principles of No Taxation Without Representation; No Hidden Taxes; and No Representation Without Taxation.

Click here to discuss this article.

© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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